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So how long do you wait to call 911?
n.ed

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October 3, 2011 - 11:03 pm
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This weekend during a trip I got worried enough to call 911.

We were a group of four and within sight of each other. Two of us went around a turn and lost sight of the following boats. We eddied out several times and waited 10 min in each eddy, we were not in a place where we could land our boats. We did land at the next workable place and waited again. My companion then walked back up the trail to see what he could find as I stood on a rock that had the best upstream view I could get to. Another half hour passes. Elapsed time well over an hour
The tardy paddlers were competent and wearing appropriate gear but it was obvious "something" had happened. I asked some passers by to go to where cell reception worked and call 911 and they did.

The state troopers and local VFD came on the scene and within 30 more minutes began a search upstream for the two kayakers I was worried about, dispatching ATVs and foot patrol up each side of the river.

Good news is that while one paddler did swim, and the boat was pinned for a time, no one was hurt and all equipment was retrieved without injury, it all just took a while, and I was waiting nervously downstream.

Every responder took the whole thing with proper gravity, and when it was clear it was a false alarm no one made me feel bad for having sounded the alarm. I am way happier to say all is well than I was the guy to either just panic or be the one to call for help.

So when do you call for help?

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Lincoln_R

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October 4, 2011 - 9:01 am
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I think that you made the right call. If it had been an unhappy pin, you might have even waited too long.

Considering that many of us are willing to shell out $300 for a paddle, an $80 submersible marine VHF radio in each boat doesn’t seem out of line.

lsr

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Gilly

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October 7, 2011 - 9:59 pm
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i feel that you should have an idea of the situation on hand before you call any emergency service.

keeping an eye on your paddling partners is one of the most important things you can do.

gbassler

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October 8, 2011 - 10:05 pm
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Most whitewater rivers are inland away from the coast and the marine band radios would not be very useful as there is nobody monitouring the marine band fequencys inland – all US Coast Guard stations miantain a radio guard of channel 16 in coastal areas – but inland no one is listening. cell phone in a dry bag/box is your best bet.
Becoming seperated on the river is a problem. Establish a lead boat that nobody gets ahead of and a sweep boat that nobody should get behind. have goood whistle and paddle/ hand signals to communicate with. If you lose track of someone in the group stop and wait until they catch up. as a rescuer if it doesnt feel right call for help I would rather get called out for a false alarm then not get a call until its a body recovery.
George

whitewater girl

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October 9, 2011 - 8:28 am
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the idea of the marine band radio is multiple people in the group carry one & establish a channel to communicate with one another on (I paddle with a few different groups that do this)…works well, but can be expensive and requires some dilligence…

Keeping an eye on everyone in a group is great in theory, but in practice can sometimes be difficult (even impossible). Lead & sweep boats can help in some circumstances, but the dynamics of many whitewater "bands" don’t lend themselves to that much structure (plus, you can still end up with your group split, out of sight & no effective way to communicate)

I’d say, try and keep a large ratio of experienced, competent paddlers to the less experienced one’s in your group, and do your best to keep one another in sight. Where that fails, try and walk up to find out what’s happening…and remember that swims often DO take an amazingly long time to re-group from, even without a pin (an hour is not unheard of) (oh, and other "needs" for taking a break can take some time as well)

…as for calling 911, you have to go with your gut on that one – only you can judge the circumstances at that point…

[btw – other needs = pee break, water break, sudden nausea, cramps, bashed hand that interferes (at least for a time) with holding a paddle (or other injury that needs addressing NOW), dizzy spell &/or chest pains, something in eye, sudden inexplicable panic attack, "wardrobe malfunction", broken or lost paddle, unnoticed exhaustion &/or hypothermia…and these are just things that I’ve encountered while paddling that delayed the group – often split with the downstream half not knowing what was going on (most just requiring a break, a couple required getting someone off the river, only the chest pains required 911)]

…yeah, marine band radios are nice, real nice…

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Lincoln_R

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October 10, 2011 - 10:02 am
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As WWGirl pointed out, the radios are for communication within the group. No one monitors them in our area either, but they carry well enough for river use.

lsr

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Maurice

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October 10, 2011 - 1:56 pm
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The point that you should have taken action was when you were 10 minutes ahead of your partners and were in an eddy. You were in class 1-2 water. By definition you were able to get out of your boat and assess the situation.

scagrotto

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October 13, 2011 - 11:19 am
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It seems to me that there are two good reasons for calling 911. The first is that there’s a definite emergency that requires immediate assistance. The second is that somebody is unaccounted for and circumstances warrant assistance from the authorities. In the first situation you obviously don’t wait, and in the second you call as soon as you decide that the circumstances warrant the call. There are certainly exceptions, but mishaps on the river mostly come in two varieties: those that need to be solved immediately and those that don’t. Of course it’s always a judgment call and I’ve got the benefit of hindsight, but once your competent (adult?) companions had been missing for "well over an hour" I don’t think circumstances warranted a call to 911. At that point it’s very unlikely that waiting a little longer to get more information will make much difference to the outcome.

Since you obviously shouldn’t call simply because you’ve become separated for 10 minutes I’d say you should be asking what you could have done differently. Why did you continue downstream while your friends were unaccounted for? Why couldn’t you get off the river much sooner? Why did you just stand on a rock for 30 minutes instead of joining your friend in searching? What was the nature of the area where your friends went missing?

acrankeeyankee

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October 13, 2011 - 2:21 pm
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I think Maurice and scragrotto hit the nail on the head. How and why did you get separated from your group? You said you were in a group of four which is a small group for most creeks. Unless you were in some walled out gorge it shouldn’t have mattered if you just went around a corner and waited ten minutes for the others there. Why didn’t you hike back up the rapid?

"Keeping an eye on everyone in a group is great in theory, but in practice can sometimes be difficult (even impossible). Lead & sweep boats can help in some circumstances, but the dynamics of many whitewater "bands" don’t lend themselves to that much structure (plus, you can still end up with your group split, out of sight & no effective way to communicate)"

whitewater girl, you are doing something wrong if you are losing sight of anyone in your group of four on any creek or river. If you put on with them paddle with them and take off with them. If eddys are minimal then leapfrogging downstream may be the only option. But leaving your group on the water is just unacceptable.

Why did you continue on downstream instead of hiking back up the river? You knew your group had to be in the last rapid upstream if the case was that you just rounded the corner downstream. In which case you would have been much better help to them aiding in whatever problem they had upstream then rather then paddling downstream at a snails pace hoping for them to catch up.

911 should be your last response once all precautions have been taken and the group has declared situation an emergency.

Adam

whitewater girl

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October 13, 2011 - 7:22 pm
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[quote author=acrankeeyankee]
whitewater girl, you are doing something wrong if you are losing sight of anyone in your group of four on any creek or river. If you put on with them paddle with them and take off with them. If eddys are minimal then leapfrogging downstream may be the only option. But leaving your group on the water is just unacceptable.

hmmm, staying with a newer paddler "flushing" through a rapid (usually while the rest of the group surfs) is unacceptable? Making sure someone who’s lagging behind the group isn’t left by themself is unacceptable? Chasing a swimmer &/or gear is unacceptable? Dropping down to the bottom of a rapid to play downstream safety is unacceptable? Granted, I’m usually in a group larger than 4 (but not always)…and I usually know exactly where everyone is (again, not quite always)…

…in my experience, staying together is a great goal, but occassionally doesn’t turn out as simple as you would make it out to be (particularly if your group is very diverse)…

That said, stopping to wait if you DO get ahead, yes, IS important – getting out & checking if things seem just "wrong" or too long is also key [and while it may be a PIA, yes, you generally CAN get out if it’s important enough (you may get wet, but oh well – this is a water sport)]

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October 15, 2011 - 10:01 pm
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[quote author=acrankeeyankee]
you are doing something wrong if you are losing sight of anyone in your group of four on any creek or river.

As an ideal for a perfect world I can almost agree with that, but here in the real world people will occasionally lose sight of one another even when they don’t intend to. On most rivers (and probably 90%+ of what Cindy paddles) it’s not a problem, and I expect that most groups accept it as a simple matter of routine.

One of the most enjoyable paddles I’ve been on was when just a friend and I eddy hopped down the Shohola. Being careful, staying close, and only moving one eddy at a time was part of the fun, but on many other rivers I don’t worry at all about losing sight of somebody for a while. If you’re somewhere that you’re comfortable enough to go with just one other paddler why/how fast would you worry about two of your group getting out of sight because they don’t follow you around a bend soon enough?

It would be safer if we always worked diligently to make sure that nobody ever got out of sight, but it would be even safer to just stay off of the river completely. As long as your trip is well executed the nature of the river is the major factor in your risk of a mishap, and if nothing has gone wrong the proximity of other paddlers isn’t a safety concern. IMHO there’s less risk in paddling something like Fifebrook solo than in a lot of things that many paddlers do as a matter of routine. In many places I won’t have any objection at all if the rest of my group continues around a bend while I’m still surfing, and a lot of the people I paddle with don’t have any problem heading downstream while somebody takes one more turn. Similarly, it’s not unusual for somebody to hustle down the river to have a few more minutes at a good play spot. Those same people can be counted on to keep a tight group when the conditions are different. It all depends on the nature of the river.

ratherbyakin

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October 17, 2011 - 10:02 pm
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Moan all you want. If you loose a person or part of your group it is YOUR fault. It is almost always possible to stay within sight of your group, horizon lines can make it tricky for the first/last boater. Bottom line is that if you’re leaving your group to go playboat at the bottom as whitwatergirl says then your the dick if something goes wrong. But if youre running a creek and you dont notice that half of the group is missing you are doing something wrong. Stop, get out, and fix the problem. It really isnt that hard to turn your head once in a while.
That being said, if you think you should call 911 DO IT. But please dont just stand around with a thumb in your face until that point. Your inaction could have cost someone their life.

whitewater girl

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October 18, 2011 - 7:09 am
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[quote author=ratherbyakin]
Bottom line is that if you’re leaving your group to go playboat at the bottom as whitwatergirl says then your the dick if something goes wrong.

I do wish people would read more carefully – I never said anything about " leaving your group to go playboat at the bottom". I put forth the scenario of part of the group surfing on the way down while someone stays with a newbie who can’t yet control their descent very well (or is freaked & simply not controling their descent).

[in cases I have any say in, yes, the newbie has had training before going out, the rivers are appropriate for their skill level, and you get them in an eddy as soon as possible & wait for the group…FYI, I’m routinely accused of being overly "retentive" for my insistance on a certain level of training before taking someone out, staying with rivers reasonably within someone’s skill set & paddling with my head on a swivel keeping track of everyone…]

…I’m just saying some of the view-points put forth are really great in theory, but fall apart at times in practice – life (including paddling) just isn’t that "neat & tidy"…

BobN

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October 18, 2011 - 8:07 pm
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A few late thoughts –

To the OP – I don’t know you so please don’t take offense but your question was worded entirely wrong. It should have been "How long do you wait before finding a way to get back upstream and see what is going on?" While there is no perfect answer, one way to approach it is as some multiple of the time that you expected them to be able to catch up with you. For example, if based on how far back they were behind you when you went around the bend, you expected them to catch up in 2 minutes (a long time), wait maybe 2 to 3 times that long (4-6 minutes) before becoming concerned and no more than another 2 minutes before getting out and getting upstream to see what is going on. On moving water, even Class II, you can cover a lot of ground in 10 minutes so that is really too long to wait. Get out and find out what is up. Only in extremely gorged out runs is it not possible to find a place to eddy out and up on the shore.

As far as keeping everyone in sight at all times, I am going to agree with whitewater girl and scgrotto that this represents an ideal that often doesn’t occur in the real world. It really depends on the the nature of the run, the group, how well the group knows each other, etc. All the river trips I do are fairly loosely organized, ad hoc type trips where there is no clear trip leader. Nonetheless, whoever is considered the "strongest" paddler or the one who knows the run the best generally takes on a kind of leader role and will make sure to keep an eye on others. That doesn’t mean that you don’t lose sight every now and again, but you do stop and regroup regularly to make sure everything is ok.

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mattm

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October 18, 2011 - 10:33 pm
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seems to me one of the previous posters talking about the ease of keeping in touch didn’t bother to heed his own advice last year on the Shep (at about 5000cfs), when another yakker flipped and swam. Another guy and I were trying to bulldog his yak to shore, and when I lost a t-grip trying to hook his boat, i beached myself, retained my paddle and lost track of everybody. My concern was the swimmer, and I ran back upstream and waded some looking for him. Meantime, the other rescuer was still chasing the boat, the swimmer had gotten to shore and was chasing it along the bank, I was out of touch with everybody, and 2 of the more experienced paddlers(who I shuttled to the put in) were bombing down the river w/o a care in the world. Could have used their help about then. Got to the takeout as they were leaving…

n.ed

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October 25, 2011 - 7:26 pm
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"The point that you should have taken action was when you were 10 minutes ahead of your partners and were in an eddy.You were in class 1-2 water. By definition you were able to get out of your boat and assess the situation." – Maurice

At the start of the thread I made it clear we got out at the first place we were able to . Perhaps more skilled paddlers than I can get out anywhere they want despite a lack of eddies on one side and the 15 foot cliff face on the other. I did not name the stream or rapid but Maurice is telling me it was class 1-2. Interesting rating system there but I don’t think you rate a rapid by the class of water in it’s eddies.
"By Definition" that’s crap!

I’ll admit perhaps we could have been in a tighter pack, but the idea that no boat should ever go around a corner in front of the group or lag back around the corner as the last boat is not reasonable, just silly and impractical. Everybody hold hands as we go through the rapid!

Another factor here may well have been the dynamics in the group , and perhaps the double edge sword of the Connections thread. I had never met any of the three boaters before that morning. Two I talked to in the Connections thread and the third we met in the parking lot as we set up the shuttle. So as a pod, or gam we had not migrated together before. We could have been tighter.

No worries I appreciate all the input, that’s why it is a discussion thread.

Gilly

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October 26, 2011 - 7:56 am
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Just curious, what river was this?

In all seriousness, if you felt concerned enough to send someone to call for help, you should of made your way upstream.

n.ed

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October 26, 2011 - 7:53 pm
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Like any complicated event there are always a bunch of minor problems that add up. In this case I did not go up the trail because my rafting sandal blew out and the trail was pretty rough, but the boater I was with did go up stream. The trail is not always in sight of the river and I waited where I was because of shoddy footwear and for fear that the tardy boaters would go past the guy on the trail unseen. I did think about it.

I could have been totaly wrong in each and every action I took, but I am willing to learn from and discuss my mistakes and potential options . Hence the thread.

This took place on the Shepaugh, upstream of Bee Brook, but below the footbridge a few days after the Post Irene tropical storm who’s name escapes me.

whitewater girl

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October 26, 2011 - 8:46 pm
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[quote author=n.ed]
This took place on the Shepaugh, upstream of Bee Brook, but below the footbridge a few days after the Post Irene tropical storm who’s name escapes me.

Lee…tropical storm Lee

…yeah, it usually isn’t one thing going wrong that gets us in trouble – it’s when a whole bunch of individual things go wrong that it overwhelms our preparations/expectations…and problems do gang up on us like that (fairly regularly, actually)…

…I guess the best take-away I can give is try to anticipate more, and expect that things go wrong in bunches…and realize (for all of us) that some of our decisions, in retrospect, could have been better. Look for yourself at what you might have done differently so you have better options the next time around…

…oh, and duct tape is a miracle repair tool – keep a wad wrapped around something (I use one of those fake credit cards companies send out) and in your drybag at all times! (fixes blown sandels/shoes, cracked boats, even works to help bandage wounds)

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Maurice

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October 26, 2011 - 9:07 pm
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This conversation is taking a long time to unfold. post Lee a few days would put this event to maybe Saturday. I paddled Friday and the upper was already low. Below the foot bridge on river right you have the first 100 yards of steep bank until the trail comes back to riverside and a mostly pine covered wide flat trail to 47. River left would be flat at this point and rising a bit to the parking lot. Easy access to the trail on river right from the river. I walk these trails all the time and none of it I would call rough even on bare feet. From the parking lot its a pretty quick walk to the foot bridge so now I am a bit more confused as to the need for emergency services.

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